(FinalCall.com) – Of all the things President Barack Obama has shown himself to be, slow on his feet is not one of them.
And while I’m not prepared to forego criticism of some of his economic advisors, or his decision to remain in the quagmire that is the Afghan War, I am prepared to tip my hat to him, just because of one thing he told members of the Trotter Group of African American columnists in the Roosevelt Room on Oct. 15.
Like any good reporter with an exclusive interview with the President of the United States, I was prepared for a rhetorical duel. My colleagues were also keenly prepared. I knew the question I would ask when my turn came around, but long before it was my turn to ask, I was already convinced that he’s a savvy player who knows how the game is played, as well as how to play the game.
“And so I completely understand, I think, people’s frustrations,” Mr. Obama said early on in the conversation. “Well rehearsed talking points,” I thought at that time.
But then he threw some new facts in the game. “The only thing that I remind people of is, number one, the steps we are taking are working. They’re just not working as fast as everyone would like,” he continued. “From 2001 to 2009, we saw the most sluggish job growth of any period since the Great Depression.
Job growth has actually been faster in the last year, in the midst of this crisis, than it was during that period of 2001 to 2009.”
In fact, a senior administration official had just explained that in the three economic “booms” of the last 50 years, Black Americans did best in the 1960s, followed by the 1980s, but had in fact lost ground economically during the “refinance-boom” from 2001-2009.
During that period, lots and lots of money was made by many people who benefited from de-regulation and the abandonment of strict banking oversight, but they were making money by buying and selling money, mortgages; and by exporting good-paying American jobs overseas, and importing cheap illegal laborers into this country which created a booming stock market at the same time unemployment was on the rise.
“The wages of middle-class families went down 5 percent during that period,” the President said. “So what you had already seen was the status of middle-class families and working poor families deteriorating steadily even as the economy was growing.”
Back in the Delta we used to say: “That’s a tough row to hoe.”
“I have to say that if we hadn’t been dealing with nonstop crises over the last two years, maybe (being the first Black President of the U.S. and the leader of the Western world) would be something that folks would be more focused on. But I think a week after the inauguration everybody had forgotten about that.
“Everybody said, what are you going to do about the economy?” he continued, “When Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball, my suspicion is, on a day-to-day basis what he was worrying about was hits–and how was Brooklyn doing. He was thinking about winning games. And then after he retired, he could look back and say, well, that was something. I tend to just be focusing on getting hits and making plays.”
Nice comparison, President Barack Obama with Jackie Robinson.
But there is another comparison the President did not want to make. “I think that my job is to constantly remind people of the fact that this election is a choice. Joe Biden puts it well. He says, don’t compare me to the Almighty; compare me to the alternative.”
That would be former Governors Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, Sarah Palin of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, House Republican Leader John Boehner, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell. In that crowd Mr. Obama looks pretty good.
“And if this election is framed simply as a referendum on whether people are satisfied with how things are right now, then obviously none of us are satisfied and we’d lose votes. If the election is posed as a choice between Republican policies that got us into this mess and President Obama’s policies that are getting us out of this mess, then I think we can do very well.”
The good news picture in all of this for the President: there is still time remaining for his message to be heard and understood by more voters who might yet save the administration from going under.
(Askia Muhammad is a Final Call senior correspondent and an award-winning journalist based in Washington, D.C. He is also a former editor for Muhammad Speaks newspaper.)